I didn’t even know what the term lymphedema meant when Susan Niebur of Toddler Planet blog told me she was working out a deal to have compression sleeves made available to women who can’t afford them. I hadn’t ever met Susan, but I knew she was in a rough place with a recurrence of cancer; we both used to write for DC Metro Moms and will soon be writing for The DC Moms.
Despite everything else she has going on, Susan replied quickly to my inquiry if a visit from a woman she’d never met (even one with a cute baby!) would be welcome. I offered referrals to holistic folks, and she wrote back about having gotten relief with lymphedma therapy at an integrative medical center I’ve been to. Some quick Googling told me that removal of lymph nodes can result in painful swelling, which can be mitigated by sleeves or compression devices.
Susan shared that she, too, was an attachment parenting mama, and that I should save my new-mama energy rather than come to her side of the Beltway. But she asked for my help in spreading the word about the new partnership she was going to launch the next day, and I promised I would.
And then my son got sick. And then his dad got sick. And, already not knowing which way is up as a newish mom of two, I lost my way.
I knew I would eventually get a post up, but I didn’t know that cancer would first hit home, giving me a whole new perspective on Susan’s experience and on her important project to give women access to lymphedema sleeves (which are not covered by insurance).
I found out yesterday that my friend Liz has breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma, and that it’s said to be “aggressive.” She’s 42 and has three daughters who are 21, 9, and 5, and a baby boy who is almost 10 months old. She’s been an extended breastfeeding advocate for a long time, so it’s breaking her heart to think about weaning him as almost as it’s scaring her to think about her future.
Liz quickly became a mentor of sorts to a playgroup we formed together over four years after “meeting” through an Attachment Parenting email list. The other people in the playgroup connected over their interest in and advocacy of homebirth. Liz helped build the Northern Virginia Homebirth Community resource. Her license plate is H20Birth. Being around Liz helped pave the way for my homebirth this past August after my 2006 c-section.
Despite my emotional turbulence during my pregnancy, Liz stuck by me and helped organize a wonderful motherblessing. A week before my daughter was born, that special afternoon helped me float into the reality of birthing my baby in my home. Speaking of floating, Liz also arranged for me to rent the same birth tub her son was born in, and she even picked it up and brought it to my house!
The day I had my baby, she was over within hours. Unfortunately, she was faster than my placenta, which took 4.5 hours to be delivered (about exactly as long as my labor was for the baby). Since my neighbor was also in labor (and had hired the same midwife), Liz, once a midwife in training, went down to the other woman’s house to help out as an assistant so that the actual assistant could go with me to the hospital. When I ended up expelling the placenta on my own, it was Liz who was directed to call the hospital and tell them I would not be coming.
Even though she had her own 4-month-old and two elementary-aged girls, Liz picked up my son several times this
summer to take him on playdates. How she mustered the energy to brave the splashground with all those children I’ll never understand!
But she did. And now we know that the lump she felt that month was more than nothing. A biopsy last week revealed the bad news, and now she awaits an MRI for more information about the extent of the cancer and her possible treatment options.
I have not been the greatest friend to Liz or to our mutual friends. I haven’t shown up for her or others when they’ve had their babies in the way I wish I could have, especially now that I have been on the other end and know how much help helps, and how much silence can hurt. I still need to do some work on myself to figure out the roles I have and haven’t played, and to forgive myself and move on.
But now, there is no “getting to it later.” There is no assuming she let me know if she wants something. She needs help now. And she has no health insurance. Her family is applying for Medicaid, but there is not much in the coffers, and any treatment — holistic or conventional — is going to cost a whole lot, upwards of $20,000 another friend’s research found.
So I started a blog at http://helptohealmama.blogspot.com/ to enlist some help. Another friend got PayPal set up for donations. Please make one if you are reading this and can spare even $10. A lot of smalls can add up to something big!
I hope we can eventually get a system of healing service donations going so that Liz can get massage, acupuncture, detox treatments, nutritional consults, Reiki … whatever people will offer pro bono.
If it’s determined that Liz will need to be aggressive with her treatment in a mainstream way, she will need breastmilk donations for her baby. At some point, she will need help with meals and with childcare, so I’ve set up a Lotsa Helping Hands website.
After all the support and love Liz has given me and the difference she’s made in the lives of so many women, the least I can do is to help create a network of help. Maybe all the time I’ve spent cultivating relationships with healing professionals can in some way benefit her and her family.